Altmire Hits Critz for Vote to Defund Planned Parenthood

What’s the difference between Jason Altmire fall 2010 and spring 2012? Take a look at this mailer, in which Altmire dings opponent Mark Critz for voting to defund Planned Parenthood.

The mail piece went to voters across the 12th congressional district.

“The political war being waged by extremists treats women as second-class citizens,” he wrote. “That’s why I stood up to extremists and voted against their plan to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.”

Critz voted in favor of an April 2011 measure – pushed by House Republicans – that would strip Planned Parenthood of federal funding. PP funding supporters, like Altmire, note that the organization provides a range of health care assistance. Opponents argue that no taxpayer dollars should go to an organization that provides abortion, even if funds are earmarked for other non-abortion services.

The issue plays against the broader backdrop of a race where each candidate tried to portray himself as more liberal – after winning general elections on the basis of being conservative.

Check out the full piece over at North Pittsburgh Politics.

Smith’s Democratic Primary Votes

Steve Welch has taken hits for voting for Barack Obama in 2008, but he isn’t the only GOP Senate candidate who has cast a ballot in a Democratic primary. Tom Smith voted in 19 Dem primaries since between the time he registered to vote in 1969, and the time he switched to the GOP in 2011.

When asked about these votes in the past – specifically the 2006 primary won by Sen. Bob Casey or the 2010 primary between Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter – Smith said he doesn’t recall who he voted for or even whether he voted in the top ballot races.

Given the results of the 2006 U.S. Senate primary in Smith’s home precinct of Plumcreek Township in Armstrong County, it’s not impossible that he didn’t vote in that race. Of the 259 ballots cast in either party, 142 Republicans and 90 Democrats voted in the U.S. Senate race. Of those Democrats, 84 voted for Bob Casey and 5 voted for one of his more liberal primary challengers. More than 10 percent of voters – 37 of 259 – didn’t vote in that race.

We pulled Smith’s voter card at the Armstrong County courthouse, and here are the elections where Smith voted in a Democratic primary:

2011, 2010, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2000, 1995, 1993, 1992, 1991, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1987, 1973, and 1972.

David Christian is a veterans advocate and businessman from Bucks County; Sam Rohrer is a former state Rep. from Berks County; Marc Scaringi is an attorney from Cumberland County; Smith is a former coal company owner from Armstrong County; and Welch, the candidate endorsed by GOP state committee, is an entrepreneur from Chester County.

We’re Number 1! (and 6)

The Washington Post took a look at the most competitive congressional primaries in the country and named the top 10 incumbents most likely to lose. There are two familiar names on the list: Reps. Tim Holden and Tim Murphy. One of them was listed number one in the country.

In case you haven’t already seen it giddily posted on the social media accounts of these challengers and their staffers, you can read Aaron Blake’s full list here. Here are the Pa. entries:

6. Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.): Holden was one of few Democrats who survived in a conservative district last election, and Republicans appeared to do him a favor by moving many of his Republicans to shore up neighboring GOP incumbents and giving him a much more Democratic district in the process. But that new territory also drew new intra-party opposition, and lawyer Matt Cartwright has reportedly put together $600,000 for his primary challenge April 24. Cartwright has also gotten the support of some liberal groups against the Blue Dog Holden, and the Campaign for Primary Accountability has said it will spend $200,000 on taking down Holden.

1. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.): This is a classic establishment-versus-tea party fight. Murphy’s opponent — 27-year-old former Senate aide Evan Feinberg — has been endorsed by Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.). (Feinberg used to work for Paul.) Murphy’s campaign, meanwhile, is touting polling that shows him with a massive lead, but the Campaign for Primary Accountability has pledged to spend $200,000 on ads hitting Murphy. That sort of spending — plus his support from the tea party wing of the GOP — could help Feinberg close the gap quickly.

Whether the list is meant to be a strict ranking or not, the fact that these two races are now on the national radar means one thing: more money coming into the districts. It will be easier for all parties, incumbents and challengers, to fundraise because of this list. And it won’t go unnoticed by third party groups, either.

New Critz Ad Hits Back Against Altmire (With Video)

Mark Critz has blasted Jason Altmire for an ad Altmire’s campaign began airing this week. Now, Critz is taking his case to TV with a rebuttal. The ad will begin airing Friday evening.

“I’m Mark Critz, and this attack from Jason Altmire is simply not true.  I’ve fought against every  Republican attempt to dismantle Medicare and gut Social Security,” Critz says to the camera. “The vote Jason is attacking me for was actually an effort by Democrats in Congress to defeat the Republican budget.”

“Every Pennsylvania Democrat except Jason voted the same as me,” he notes.

In his ad, Altmire criticized Critz for failing to vote against a Tea Party budget that would have slashed entitlements including Medicare.

Critz’s campaign responded immediately, noting that the vote was a parliamentary tactic by Democrats aimed at defeating the GOP. Indeed, all but 16 Dems in Congress voted with Critz. Some, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and Rep. Bob Brady, have spoken out in Critz’s defense.

The idea was, if Democrats voted ‘present’ rather than no on the Tea Party alternative to Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, then the threshold for passing it would be lower and the GOP Majority in the U.S. House might actually pass a product even less likely to pass the U.S. Senate.

Altmire’s ad isn’t technically false, but it is misleading. His campaign says that political maneuvers aren’t an excuse.

“The last thing we need are more politicians playing insider games, failing to take a stand and putting partisan politics ahead of protecting seniors’ benefits. If you’re against something, you vote NO,” said Altmire spokesman Richard Carbo.

Indeed, he addressed that issue in a radio ad airing in the district.

“He’s never missed a vote,” says a woman playing bingo, “and he’s never voted ‘present.’”

Responding to a negative ad with another ad is tricky; a campaign must refute the charge quickly and attack the opponent strongly without simply bringing more attention to a negative issue. The ad spends a fair amount of time talking about the vote, but Critz doesn’t go for the kill – instead signing off with, “I approved this message because Jason is better than this.”

To bolster his credibility on entitlements, today Critz rolled out an endorsement from the Alliance for Retired Americans, an organization with about 15,000 members in the 12th district.

“Nobody has a stronger record of fighting to protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare than Mark Critz,” said Pa. Chapter President Jean Friday said. “His 100 percent record on seniors’ issues, and his willingness to stand up to those who want to cut benefits makes him the clear choice in this race.”

Here are the line-by-line citations for Critz’s new ad, courtesy of his campaign.

Critz Rebuttal to Altmire ad

PoliticsPA Poll: Should PoliticsPA split state House & Senate election updates into a separate daily article?

This is what it looks like now.

Help PoliticsPA be a better news source for you. We want to know what you think: would you find it easier to read if we created a separate post for our daily updates on state House and Senate races?

Right now, the “Legislative Election Updates” feature is incorporated into the the Morning Buzz. As a result, the Buzz is massively long and sometimes items seem buried. However, the current one-article, one-email setup may be more convenient.

What do you think? Please vote.

Should PoliticsPA split state House & Senate election updates into a separate daily article?

  • No. It's fine where it is, as part of the Morning Buzz. (59%)
  • Yes. (29%)
  • Yes, and there should also be a separate daily email. (12%)

Total Voters: 326

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Reader Poll: Murphy Runs Away with AG Race

PoliticsPA readers have spoken, and they are predicting Patrick Murphy for Pa. Attorney General. By a margin of 711 to 284 in our unscientific poll, Murphy overcame former Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane.

Murphy is a former Congressman from Bucks County.

As of this week, both campaigns are on TV.

The GOP candidate is Dave Freed, the District Attorney of Cumberland County.

Here are the poll results:

Who will win the Dem primary for Attorney General?

  • Patrick Murphy (71%)
  • Kathleen Kane (29%)

Total Voters: 995

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3/30 Ups & Downs

The campaign season is heating up, and some candidates have shone as others start to fall behind. Here’s who had a good week, and who didn’t.

Kathleen Kane. Seeing the words “President,” and “endorses,” in a subject heading certainly gets a reporter’s attention, like this week when former President Bill Clinton backed the Attorney General hopeful. Kane and the Clintons have long been close, so it wasn’t a shocker. But it certainly was a strong response to Patrick Murphy’s long list of endorsements. And Kane started to flex her financial muscle a bit too, with her introductory TV ad getting fairly strong play in most of the state.

Sam Rohrer. He’s had a huge week. At the Pa. Leadership Conference, he ran away with the straw poll of the U.S. Senate primary. He picked up the backing of two national figures, Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann. But the flip side: two polls in a row (F&M, Wenzel/CU) have shown him losing ground to Tom Smith. Without a change in his financial situation, he faces a tough challenge reaching voters outside his devoted base of supporters and keeping up as paid media starts.

Jason Altmire. The Congressman is in the catbird seat. He can spend more of his cash defining Mark Critz than vice versa, since much of the new district is already his and Mark Critz needs to raise his name ID. In an effective if not intellectually honest ad this week, Almtire lands a strong hit on Critz. Regarding legitimate complains that the ad takes Critz’s vote out of context, Turnabout is fair play. Altmire has taken his share of lumps for deviating from the Democratic party line. In this case, Critz’s adherence to the party line has exposed him to criticism. And let’s face it: it’s politics, not a truth-telling contest. Also he can now say – for the first time – he’s been endorsed by labor unions, plural, because a second one backed him Thursday.

Equality PA & Liberty City Dems. Two of the preeminent LGBT rights groups in the state endorsed openly gay attorney and LGBT advocate Brian Sims for state House. In most cases, no big deal. But not in this race. Sims is challenging Rep. Babette Josephs, one of the most reliable and most vocal supporters that the LGBT community has in Harrisburg. One can fully appreciate the desire of these groups to see the first openly gay Pa. legislator, but voting records count, and so should loyalty.

Babette Josephs. Proponents of the controversial ultrasound mandate were on their heels and retreating. The vote had been cancelled, and co-sponsors were dropping like flies. But Josephs surrendered the rhetorical high ground this week with her suggestion that women who supported the bill – like chief sponsor Rep. Kathy Rapp – are “men with breasts.” It soured an otherwise sweet victory by women’s rights groups.

Arlen Specter. What can we say? The man knows how to make news. This week, the former Senator made a big splash with his remark that Mitt Romney, “has changed positions more often than a pornographic movie queen.” Classic Arlen. And so close to the day that his new book ‘Life Among the Cannibals’ hit stores. Coincidence?

3/30 Morning Buzz

Good morning politicos, here’s the Buzz. Tons of action in the Altmire/Critz race, which is finally living up to the hype. Lot’s of news this week from that race, mainly over Altmire’s latest TV ad.

Don’t forget to check back later for the Ups & Downs, and scroll down to see two women in politics events happening in Pa. on Saturday.

State of Play in Altmire/Critz Race: The hard-fought primary battle between two Democratic incumbent congressmen – Jason Altmire and Mark Critz – appears to be turning on a question that only a political theorist could love. In a low-turnout primary with two credible incumbents, can the one with wider name recognition and a home-field advantage (in this case, Altmire) beat out the one who has the backing of the district’s most influential interest group (Critz, with strong support from labor unions)?

Senior House Democrats & Labor Help Critz Push Back Against Altmire Ad: Several House Democrats and at least one labor union are running to the defense of Congressman Critz in the wake of Congressman Altmire’s ad which argued that Critz voted to end medicare and defended Wall Street.

Altmire Receives Plumbers and Steamfitters Endorsement: Jason Altmire has received the endorsement of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 47 in Beaver County, according to a press release issued early Thursday morning.

Poll: Smith Leads Senate Race: Tom Smith is atop the field of Republicans seeking to unseat Sen. Bob Casey, according to a poll released this morning. Smith has 25.7 percent to Sam Rohrer’s 17.9 percent, but a strong 48.2 percent of respondents are still undecided.

Kane Launches First Television Ad (Video): The spot, a thirty-second introductory ad that emphasizes Kane’s prosecutorial experience, is expected to air in most of the Commonwealth’s major media markets.

LGBT Groups Endorse in 2012 Primaries: Four of PA’s most prominent LGBT rights advocacy groups – EqualityPA, the Liberty City Democratic Club, the Steel City Stonewall Democrats and the Capital Area Stonewall Democrats – have made their endorsements in the 2012 primaries. Here’s who stood out.

Women in Politics: There are two neat events going on tomorrow. For Democrats and liberals: a women’s rally against the ultrasound bill at the Bucks County building in Levittown will feature lawmakers, women’s rights leaders, and more – including the funniest opponent of the now-defunct measure, Sen. Larry Farnese.

For Republicans and conservatives, the Luzerne GOP Women are having a breakfast on Saturday at the Genetti in Wilkes-Barre, headlined by Rick Santorum’s daughter Elizabeth. Doors open at 9:15.

Legislative Election Updates:

LGBT Endorsements: The four biggest gay rights advocacy groups in PA have made their endorsements in the 2012 primaries – too many to list below. But check ‘em out.

SD-29: Brian Rich has a friend in (the Citizens Alliance for) Pennsylvania. The conservative group rebutted a mailed by Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill) or supporters which reportedly said that a company owned by Rich, his primary challenger, had been sued for a number of things including racketeering. CAP reports that the lawsuit was thrown out and the plaintiff forced to pay damages.

SD-37: The Moon GOP unanimously endorsed Rep. Mark Mustio for the seat of retiring Sen. John Pippy. “Our committee has worked with both Representative Mustio and Senator John Pippy on many issues affecting our community and although we wish Senator Pippy all the best in his retirement, Mark will be able to step in as our next senator seamlessly because of his teamwork with John over the years,” said Cathy Tress, chair of the committee.

HD-24: Here’s a dispatch about the smart move by Ed Gainey. The primary challenger to Rep. Joe Preston (D-Allegheny) accused the incumbent of forged petitions – which Preston’s camp ultimately withdrew. Yesterday, Gainey held a presser with people who allege that their names were forged. Good optics.

HD-150: Kelly Devine, the Democrat running against Rep. Mike Vereb (R-Montco) is having her campaign kickoff tonight at the Appalachian Brewing Company in Collegeville at 7. Of GOP House leadership, Devine said, “Instead of focusing on the needs of the people and funding our public education system, they slashed their budgets and put the burden of tax increases on local government. They promised a return to financial stability, and instead kicked the can back to our local school boards.”

HD-182: We will single out this one race to mention the LGBT endorsements. The two biggest gay rights groups in Pa. backed challenger Brian Sims, an openly gay attorney and LGBT advocate, over incumbent Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila).

Tribune-Review: If Santorum stays in race, Pennsylvania could spell his doom
Politico: Lawmakers split on mandate severability
ABC News: The Note: Rick Santorum, the ‘Candy Man’
Washington Post: The Fix: Rick Santorum’s ‘win or go home’ states
Washington Post: The Fix: Rick Santorum allies up Wisconsin ad buy
Boston Herald: Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum urged to step aside
Huffington Post: Rick Santorum aligns himself with Scott Walker
Pennsylvania Ave: Dent and Schwartz to support bipartisan budget bill
Pennsylvania Ave: Romney to hold tele-town hall with Pennsylvania voters
Roll Call: In GOP Presidential race, Fat lady sings
Five Thirty Eight: Supreme court may be the most conservative in modern history
Washington Post: Spector’s dirty old man routine should inspire women
The Hill: Ryan’s budget passed by the House with 10 GOP defections
ProPublica: While White House easing student debt burden, Fed Contractors play hardball
USA Today: Pennsylvania is key for Santorum, but is it still home?
Slate: How to defend Obamacare

Capitol Ideas: Kathleen Kane is on the air in Democratic AG’s race
Capitol Ideas: Spot the campaign issue: Republicans running against healthcare reform
Patriot-News: AG Candidates Agree To Serve Full Term Before Seeking Other Office
Patriot-News: Should the Next AG Be Barred From Seeking Higher Office?
Baer Growls: A Pa. Push Against Obamacare
City Paper: Corbett cut to General Assistance could keep some women in abusive relationships
Philly Now: Pennsylvania may bar doctors from disclosing fracking dangers
Pottstown Mercury: Pa. Senate passes law banning animal gassing

CBS: Philadelphia School Reform Commission votes to close eight schools
CBS: Philadelphia lawmaker wants to tighten “resign to run” candidacy rule
CBS: Mayor Nutter addresses hospitality students, stresses graduation rate
WHYY Newsworks: Timing of property tax reassessments a matter of politics, not law
WHYY Newsworks: Could soda tax come back in Philly?
Philly Clout: Council pushes state to take action on child sexual abuse legislation
Philly Clout: Nutter staffer to head Obama voter ID education effort
Philly Clout: Board of Ethics to revise rules regarding Controller’s staff
Philly Now: Security guards rally for unionization at Love Park
Inquirer: Philly School District faces $186 million budget gap
Inquirer: John Baer: A PA push against Obamacare
Inquirer: Nearly 67 years later, soldier gets Prisoner of War Medal

Daily Local: West Chester U. students join Harrisburg rally
Daily Local: Demonstrators come face to face on HB1077
Delco Daily Times: Senator urges action on snakehead reports
Delco Times: ConocoPhillips extends deadline for facility sale
Delco Times: Chester mayor offers goals in “State of the City” speech
Delco Times: New talks in week-old transit police strike
Delco Times: Aston Twp. repeals law targeting sex offenders
The Intelligencer: Fitzpatrick town hall on healthcare draws tough questions
Bucks Local News: Environmental group: Delaware Rivers tops list of most polluted waterways

Leader Times: Auditor general candidate stresses watchdog brigade
Valley News Dispatch: New Kensington police chief dead
Tribune-Review: Western Pennsylvania municipalities file suit against state over new gas laws
Tribune-Review: New judge appointed in West Penn antitrust lawsuit against UPMC
Tribune-Review: Some Pittsburgh schools marking death of Florida teenager
Tribune-Review: Former Bridgewater councilman held for trial in 1979 slaying
Tribune-Review: PUC approves cab service in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs
Post-Gazette: Challenger calls for probe into Preston’s nominating forums
Post-Gazette: 138 arrests in McKeesport since saturation patrols began
Early Returns: Altmire attacks Critz in new campaign ad
Early Returns: RNC chair: Referendum on liberty
Early Returns: Kane up with TV ads in AG race
Early Returns: Daily Santorum: Candy & bowling
Early Returns: Romney transmits info to PA voters

AP: MTA buying subway cars made upstate; protects jobs
Observer-Reporter: County gets new drug task force boss
Observer-Reporter: Hunter files civil rights suit against Peters police officer
Observer-Reporter: Filming company pays for day of free parking in city
Indiana Gazette: Indiana County – Land given for veterans shelter
Indiana Gazette: White Township – Supervisors seeking larger grant
Indiana Gazette: Indiana County – Drilling ordinance advanced
Somerset Daily American: Santorum’s brother uses pop culture to differentiate presidential hopefuls
Altoona Mirror: Mo Valley initiative boosts test results
WTAE: Budget crunch could force state police barracks to close
Daily Courier: Salary board reclassifies positions in Fayette

Citizens Voice: Health care law has local support
Citizens Voice: House committee drops mine fund transfer bill
Citizens Voice: Nanticoke officials, home-rule committee settle policy differences
Times Leader: Hopefuls disclose financial numbers
Times Leader: HHS official makes house call
Times Leader: Sterling focus for leader
Times Leader: Baker bill requires judges give reasoning for juvie placement
Times Tribune: Lackawanna County salary board OKs new positions
Times Tribune: Scranton mayor praises downtown development, accepts fiscal challenges
Times Tribune: Cremation permit fee OK’d by commissioners
Times Tribune: Scranton mayor to give annual State-of-the-City address
Times Tribune: State treasurer to announce those owed unclaimed property  via newspaper advertisement
Times News: McAdoo GOP group endorses Argall
News Item: Mayor fights woes, maintains optimism
Standard Speaker: Health insurance mandate excludes illegal immigrants
Daily Review: Marino’s pharmacy bill subject of Judiciary hearing

Lehigh Valley:
Express Times: Washington councilman says Washington Township is overcharging for police services
Express Times: Warren County  freeholders approve  2012 budget
Reading Eagle: Zoners approve variances for 5-bay garage
Reading Eagle: Council Oks new pistols  for police department
Reading Eagle: Spencer nominee’s firm owes city $45,000
Morning Call: Sludge naysayers outnumber supporters at Lower Mount Bethel event
Morning Call: Macungie police-mayor schedule dispute
Morning Call: Allentown Pa Arena sued by Hanover

South Central:
AP: Towns sue Pa. over Marcellus Shale law
Harrisburg Patriot News: Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett’s counsel meets with advocacy groups to discuss state Capitol access restriction concerns
Harrisburg Patriot News: Pa. attorney general candidates agree to serving full terms before running for another office
Harrisburg Patriot News: Should the next Pennsylvania attorney general be barred from seeking higher office while serving
York Daily Record: Primary central: Everything you need to know about the April 24 primary
York Dispatch: York area lawmakers joining lawsuit to reform education funding
Go Lackawanna: Hopefuls disclose financial numbers

North by Northwest:
Erie Times-News: Possible cuts to human service programs worry Erie County clients, providers
Erie Times-News: U.S. Senate candidates offer views at Erie forum
Erie Times-News: Claim your refund: IRS owes more than $15,000 to Erie County residents
Campaign ‘12: U.S. Senate candidates offer views at Erie forum

Pocono Record: Letter to the Editor: Corbett should not support ultrasound bill
Citizens Voice: Opinion: Orie’s case necessitates sweeping reform
Citizens Voice: Letter to the Editor: State’s new gas drilling goes against PA Constitution
Citizens Voice: Letter to the Editor: Insurance for contraception reduces cost of medical care
Daily Review: Letter to the Editor: Online privacy needs protection
Tribune-Review: Health care costs: Perverted “insurance”
Tribune-Review: The Thursday wrap
Tribune-Review: Schools can do more with less – if we let them
Post-Gazette: Experience counts: Democrats should renominate Doyle for Congress
Post-Gazette: Keep foreign aid: America must maintain its role abroad
Post-Gazette: Keep in mind the Republicans’ No. 1 goal
Beaver County Times: Church defending its morals
Beaver County Times: Health care plan offers many benefits
Beaver County Times: Government should not invade private lives
Beaver County Times: Budget cuts hurtful
Observer-Reporter: Delaying reality doesn’t help kids
Observer-Reporter: Cautious optimism
Altoona Mirror: Reduce deficit spending
Harrisburg Patriot News: Corbett’s budget cuts jeopardize progress made with mental illness
Harrisburg Patriot News: Legislators shouldn’t worry with ‘Year of the Bible’
Harrisburg Patriot News: Santorum often talks before he thinks
Inquirer: Campaign cash sources matter
Daily News: That squirmy feeling… the Orie case
Pottstown Mercury: A time for peace
Courier Times: Health care is not a civil rights issue
Daily Local: Sentencing of Perzell should be a wake up call… but it’s not
Daily Local: Ten Commandments replaced by legislation

Young Philly Politics: Nowhere to go, more addicts on the street and a ringing irony
Keystone State Education Coalition: School board resolution asks state for more funding
Commonwealth Foundation: Change we can’t afford
Lehigh Valley Independent: News analysis fail
Lehigh Valley Independent: Lehigh GOPers reject vehicle safety grant
NEPArtisan: Susquehanna County imposes drilling fee, others to follow
NEPArtisan: Attorney General candidate Kathleen Kane’s ad hits cable
Lu-Lac Political Letter: Charter flap on county ethics board
Pennsylvania Progressive: The late great commonwealth: Catching up to the Republican primary
Keystone Progress: Daily funnies: “Texas Ultrasound” comic
Keystone Politics: Plumbers and steamfitters endorse Altmire
Keystone Politics: How Harrisburg Republicans are killing the economic recovery
Keystone Politics: PA-15: LGBT groups endorse Jackson Eaton in Democratic primary
Keystone Politics: Critz launches first attack ad in PA-12 Blue Dog fight
Keystone Politics: The PA chamber’s incoherent defense of tax loopholes
Keystone Politics: Fact checking the Altmire attack ad; Pants on fire?
Keystone Politics: Why shouldn’t you be allowed to order overseas wine?
John Hanger: EPA GHG rule spotlights 1 of 3 big manipulations in Howarth study
John Hanger: State gas generation jumps 68 percent from January 2011 to to 2012
John Hanger: Wing generation rises 50 percent plus, nationally and in Pennsylvania
Jan Jarrett’s Ad Hoc Blog: Cassandra, Steven Tyler and global warming
Jan Jarrett’s Ad Hoc Blog: Cut mercury pollution so we can eat our trout
Citizens’ Call: Glenside shop owner cozies up to magnanimous mob
Citizens’ Call: Kerlin Farm would-be developer goes toe-to-toe with area residents

Senior House Democrats & Labor Help Critz Push Back Against Altmire Ad

Several House Democrats and at least one labor union are running to the defense of Congressman Critz in the wake of Congressman Altmire’s ad which argued that Critz voted to end medicare and defended Wall Street.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said, “House Democrats stood together and voted ‘present’ on the extreme RSC budget in order to expose its radical policies. Doing this showed the American people just how extreme House Republicans are and how devastating their policies would be for our nation, like ending the Medicare guarantee. This was a vote to protect Medicare and derail the Republican Budget.”

Critz organized a conference call with Chief Deputy Whip Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and Philadelphia Congressman and City Democratic Chairman Bob Brady. Both echoed Steny Hoyer’s argument that Democrats were trying to protect Medicare.

Labor also came to the defense of Critz.

“Any ad that characterizes Congressman Critz as having not stood up to a budget that would “dismantle Social Security or gut Medicare” is incorrect.  Congressman Critz has consistently stood up for working and retired people, that’s why the AFL-CIO endorsed him.   This should continue to be a campaign about ideas and we hope both candidates will take the high road,”  said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Richard Bloomingdale.

Congressman Altmire maintains that the most effective way to stand up to the Republicans would have been to vote no on the Republican Study Committee budget amendment.

“Mark Critz voted present. It is no surprise that he is now scrambling to explain why he didn’t vote against the bill, which would have cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid by $2.3 trillion. As Critz tries to dig his way out and explain this inexplicable vote, one thing remains clear — western Pennsylvanians didn’t send Jason Altmire and Mark Critz to Washington to vote present.

The last thing we need are more politicians playing insider games, failing to take a stand and putting partisan politics ahead of protecting seniorss benefits. If you’re against something, you vote NO,” said a statement from the Altmire campaign.

State of Play in Altmire/Critz Race

BEAVER, Pa. – The hard-fought primary battle between two Democratic incumbent congressmen – Jason Altmire and Mark Critz – appears to be turning on a question that only a political theorist could love. In a low-turnout primary with two credible incumbents, can the one with wider name recognition and a home-field advantage (in this case, Altmire) beat out the one who has the backing of the district’s most influential interest group (Critz, with strong support from labor unions)?

In the district – a sprawling hybrid drawn in a Republican-dominated redistricting process – Altmire began the race with an edge. Roughly two-thirds of the geographic area, including portions of Allegheny, Beaver and Westmoreland counties, came from his old territory, and his three terms in Congress gave him extensive name identification. Critz’s district, by contrast, was based in Johnstown, which is geographically distant from Altmire’s old territory, meaning that much of the district didn’t know him very well.

This advantage has produced leads for Altmire ranging from 7 points to 24 points in recent polls. But Critz has received almost unanimous — and energetic — support from labor unions, including an endorsement this week from the state AFL-CIO. These unions are offering him an infrastructure of volunteers and a sense of momentum – quite possibly enough to make this contest a nail-biter.

“This will be a test of whether labor leadership can sway members and turn out a pro-Critz vote” in Altmire’s home territory, said Ray Wrabley, a political scientist at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. “From my conversations with some of the Critz and labor people, I sense some confidence that they will make some inroads in the western part of the district and make this a very close race.”

A series of interviews in this blue-collar corner of western Pennsylvania suggest that labor is giving high priority to the Altmire-Critz face-off, which is taking place on a day when Democratic voters will have relatively little else of interest on the ballot.

Unions hope to make the race an example of how they can flex their political muscle in an era when workers’ rights are under attack by Republicans emboldened by victories at the ballot box in 2010.

“The state AFL-CIO’s endorsement really says how important union people see this race,” said Tim Waters, the national political director for the United Steel Workers.”

Dennis Powell, who serves as financial secretary for the United Steel Workers Local 8183 and works at a soon-to-be-shuttered zinc smelter, sees the local Democratic establishment as lacking the kind of resources to match what unions have.

“Just today, we’re having phone banking,” Powell said about a month before primary day, over lunch at the Towne Square restaurant in downtown Beaver. “We will hit all the union people in western Pennsylvania two or three times to let them know why we’re supporting Critz. We’re trying to put foot soldiers on the ground to get his name and policies out there.”

Critz’s message — “wanting to revitalize Americian innovation” by restoring the manufacturing industry — “has energized labor folks in Beaver County,” said Eric Hoover, the former vice president of the Beaver/Lawrence County Labor Council.

A subtext of the focus on labor resources is the lawsuit Critz filed against Altmire for allegedly not securing enough signatures to get on the ballot. Altmire dodged a bullet when the court kept him on the ballot, but even his backers acknowledge that the legal challenge shined a light on a lack of organization on Altmire’s part – something the Critz camp hopes to exploit.

Union officials say they have worked with Altmire in the past and don’t feel personal animus toward him. Indeed, observers say that the ideological differences are probably outweighed by the stylistic ones.

“Altmire’s the cool, smooth, consummate politician while Critz has more of an ‘everyman’ demeanor,” said one political observer in the district. “You could imagine having a beer with Critz and shooting the breeze. Altmire’s a nice guy, but he hardly ever seems relaxed and not in political mode.”

But union officials add that they were irked by Altmire’s vote against the Democratic health care bill in 2010. Critz has said that he too would have voted against the bill; he wasn’t yet a Member of Congress when it came to a vote, earning his seat later when he won a special election to succeed his late boss, John Murtha. But Critz has since said that he would not advocate the bill’s repeal.

“Critz has always been with us on issues that matter to working families,” said Jessica Walls-Lavelle, a spokeswoman for the state Service Employees International Union. “Altmire has taken votes we’re not happy with.”

For their part, Altmire’s supporters cite the ties he’s built to much of the district.

“The past few years, Jason has been a very attentive representative, always there if you need him,” said Rich Hrivnak, the mayor of Plum Borough. “I can call him on his cell and he personally picks up.”

Jon Delano, the money and politics editor at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, said he “would not discount the importance of geography” in the race.

“In the North Hills of Allegheny County and Beaver and parts Westmoreland, the notion of having a congressman from Johnstown — it just doesn’t set well,” Delano said. “It remains to be seen whether Democratic voters in the western part of the district are willing to vote for someone who lives so far away.”

Altmire supporters echo the sentiments of some national Democratic strategists who suggest that Altmire’s ideologically moderate profile could make an easier race in the general election. The Democratic nominee is expected to face Republican Keith Rothfus in the fall in a race that’s expected to be competitive regardless of who wins the Democratic primary. In 2010, Altmire eked out a victory against Rothfus, a little-known Republican, during a strongly Republican year.

“I’m a lifelong independent,” said Jack Manning, a retired chemical county executive in Beaver County. “I have nothing strongly against Critz, but Jason has always been much more centrist, like I am.”

While Altmire supporters acknowledge that Critz benefits from union support, they caution that the support of union leaders does not necessarily translate into rank-and-file votes.

“Today, you cannot force someone to vote how you want them to,” said Dan Donatella, a retired Beaver County commissioner and Altmire backer who has served as a local Democratic chairman and state committeeman. “People will vote as they want to vote, and may even be insulted if you show them how you want them to vote.”

Experts say it’s an open question whether labor support can carry the day for any candidate in the current political environment, though unions do remain particularly strong in industrial areas of the Midwest, including southwestern Pennsylvania.

Republican attempts to curb collective bargaining in such states as Wisconsin, Indiana and next-door Ohio “woke a sleeping giant,” said Melanie Blumberg, a political scientist and an expert in labor unions and politics at California University of Pennsylvania, which is in Critz’s old district. “The question is whether they can keep it up, and how well unions will mobilize their members. It’s anyone’s guess.”

While both candidates have addressed jobs, Critz has made a focal point of his ads the argument that he’s worked to save local industrial jobs. As a long-serving aide to Murtha – whose ability to steer federal assistance to his district was legendary – Critz took a hands-on role in promoting economic development in the region over many years. Critz’s ads have been running in areas of the district where he isn’t already well known.

“His ad makes a powerful statement about keeping jobs in western Pennsylvania and how we can compete with anyone,” said Pam Lezark, a Critz volunteer from Plum.

Kirk Holman, a longtime political observer in southwestern Pennsylvania and a former Republican official, said Critz’s message “that he is and always has been about jobs will resonate in places like Beaver County.”

Ironically, there’s actually a greater degree of economic optimism here than there is in other places nationally. After a decades-long decline, the region is experiencing slow economic recovery, some of it due to Marcellus shale gas drilling, some of it from the absence of a real estate crash, and some of it from a re-emergent manufacturing sector.

For instance, even though the zinc plant where Powell works is slated for closure, there’s a good chance that Shell will build a $3 billion cracking plant nearby, providing a source of replacement jobs.

Hrivnak, the Plum mayor and Altmire supporter, said his full-time job in human resources has made it clear to him that the area is in comeback mode.

“I can tell you any number of signs that the economy is improving,” he said. “Is it a boom yet? No. But over the past four years, you can truly see the upswing. There is more hiring going on, and people seem to be more optimistic about what’s ahead.”

Powell, the Critz supporter, agrees. “People who are losing jobs are finding jobs,” he said. “For generations, you assumed that you followed your father into a mill, and then for a generation you assumed you had to leave to find a job. That’s beginning to change.”

Whoever ends up winning the Democratic primary, supporters on both sides acknowledge that the Democrat won’t be a shoo-in in November.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said Walls-Lavelle of the SEIU. “We do not take it for granted at all in the fall. It will be tough no matter who comes out the winner in the primary.”

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